Indonesian troops have been told to fire on people “looting” in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that has devastated the Sulawesi island.
Desperate survivors have taken food, water and other supplies from shops after days without aid or support from the state.
Signs propped along roads in Sulawesi read, “We need food,” and, “We need support.”
One military officer said on Wednesday that troops would “fire a warning shot and then shoot to immobilise” in the event of further looting.
Cops and soldiers initially ignored people taking things from shops, partly fearing an angry reaction if they tried to intervene. But by Thursday, police had arrested 92 people in Palu, one of the worst hit cities, for looting goods.
The real scandal is not poor people “looting”. It’s that they have been left abandoned for days as supplies of food, water and medicines run out.
Cost-cutting stopped a better system of tsunami detection being put in place in Indonesia. And the chaos following the tsunami, which hit on Friday, has exposed the government’s lack of planning to support and rescue survivors.
Rescue attempts are still being hindered due to lack of heavy equipment. On Thursday a French rescue team said it had detected someone thought to be alive under rubble in the Mercure hotel in Palu.
But the team only had a hand drill and so couldn’t reach the victim. They will have to return with heavy equipment on Friday.
The official death toll has reached over 1,400 and hundreds of people remain unaccounted for.
Mohammed Thahir Talib from the Wani village in Donggala province told the AFP news agency, “Twelve people in this area haven’t yet been found. In the area to the south, because there hasn’t been an evacuation we don’t know if there are bodies. It’s possible there are more.”
Thousands of people are injured and around 70,000 displaced after their homes were swept away. The United Nations said nearly 200,000 people need urgent help, including tens of thousands of children.
Yet Indonesia’s government initially told foreign rescue teams to “stand down”. Even when it did ask for help, officials said there was no “mechanism for this to be implemented”.
The Red Cross said that “large areas of what might be the worst-affected areas haven’t been properly reached”. And the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance has appealed “urgently” for more body bags amid fears that decomposing bodies could spread deadly diseases.
Instead of fully focusing on helping survivors, the authorities are spending time trying to combat “fake news”.
Police have arrested nine people accused of spreading false reports that another huge earthquake is heading for Sulawesi island.